Review: Scribophile

[This review was posted July 19, 2012. It was unbiased at that time. Since then, I have not only continued as a member of Scribophile, but stepped into the role of Moderator for the community forums.]

A few months ago, having realized that I am unlikely to ever have time for an “in-person” writing group, I started looking for virtual or online writing groups. I figured I would check a few out, take notes, and write reviews of each site to post here on “Hey, Look! I’m a Writer!”

It turns out I really needn’t have bothered. Having compared several options and having signed up for about four different sites, there’s only one I’ve actually stuck with: Scribophile (http://www.scribophile.com).

Scribophile bills itself as “The online writing group for serious writers.” Perhaps a better version of that tagline would be, “The online writing group for people who are serious about writing,” though that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. I was pleased to find that the members of the site are not “serious” all the time—just serious about writing.

There are a few categories I intended to compare between sites. Even though I no longer plan to review multiple sites, I can give you a quick summary of Scribophile’s ratings in those categories.

Number of authors/members on the site

This information was not actually available anywhere that I could find it. However, on the home page when you go to log in or sign up, Scribophile claims “141,235 critiques served for 21,905 works, and 377,460 posts in 15,465 threads in our writing forums.” Even if you assume that every member has posted more than one work, that still works out to several thousand members.

Requirements for Posting Writing

Like at least a couple of other sites I tried, Scribophile works on a “credit” system, where you earn credits to post your own work by providing critiques on the work others have posted. On Scribophile, these credits are called Karma, and it takes 5 Karma to post a work—so you have to get critiquing before you can even start posting! This actually accomplishes some good things, though: it ensures that new members understand what other members are posting, what the “Code of Conduct” is for making comments on other people’s writing, and what to expect when other members start critiquing the new members’ work.

It takes me, on average, two or three critiques to earn enough Karma points to post something. This is reasonable to achieve, and also ensures that every work gets multiple critiques, since almost everyone wants to post their writing for feedback.

One interesting feature is the “Spotlight” concept, where works in a spotlight earn critiquers more Karma per feedback than works not in a spotlight. A work in a spotlight will then attract more feedback, as a general rule, than a work not in a spotlight; posted writing moves through the queue from “waiting for the spotlight” to “in the spotlight” where it remains until a certain number of critiques have been completed. Then it moves out of the spotlight to make room for the next work. Marshaling writing through a queue like this means that getting your work into a spotlight where it will attract more critiques requires you to go critique the works ahead of yours to make room! Again, a great way to ensure that every posted work receives quality feedback.

Quality of Feedback

Scribophile has all kinds of members who are serious about writing, from “beginner” to “enthusiast” to “working toward publication” to “professionally published” to “professional editor.” This means that the feedback also runs at all levels—you’ll get a good idea whether people enjoy the overall plot and style, and you’ll get feedback and correction on mechanics (grammar, spelling, punctuation). You’ll also get an idea what it will take to make your work “publishable.”

The quality of feedback isn’t related to critiques, though. Scribophile also has an active discussion forum, where members ask and answer questions, some as amateurs and some as experts.

Cost

A premium Scribophile membership is $9/monthly or $65/yearly.

Is there a free membership level?

Yes! Scribophile has an ad-supported free level with nearly all the features of the paid membership—and, most importantly, access to the great community of writers.

Differences between paid/free membership (if any)

  • “Scribophile Premium” members can post unlimited works at a time for others to view and critique. Free (aka “Scribophile Basic”) members can post up to 2.
  • Premium members can add bold, italic, or underlined text to their posted writing, and insert pictures. Basic members cannot.
  • Premium members can bypass the main Spotlight queue by posting their work in a “Personal Spotlight.” This increases the amount of time feedback on the work earns extra Karma, but it also reduces the pool of potential critiquers to those who are in Scribophile groups with you or who have flagged you as a “favorite” author.

Who would benefit from the site?

Any aspiring writer would benefit from the site. So would any professional or prospective professional writer. From enthusiast to expert, anyone who wants to write would benefit from Scribophile. There is a caveat, however: come with realistic expectations and thick skin. This is not a site full of your friends, family, and neighbors who have told you since you were twelve years old that you are a wonderful writer. If there are problems with your writing, your plot, your mechanics: you will be told, and bluntly. Luckily, if there are things that work well, passages that are eloquent, characters who are engaging: you’ll be told that, too.

Would I recommend joining?

Yes! I can’t say it any more simply than that.

Just tell them Boris sent you.

This entry was posted in Reviews.

16 comments on “Review: Scribophile

  1. Caren says:

    I love Scribophile, registered a few days ago and it had gotten me completely hooked

  2. Shirley says:

    I really appreciated the following article. I recently joined this group – only a few days ago – and have only just begun learning my way around the site.

    I anticipate earning the so-called karma points, and look forward to becoming friends with people who are at varying levels of writing skill.

    Check it out!

  3. Imogen says:

    Give over Boris, Or is it Brian? You’re a moderator on Scribophile. Yet, you allowed the published author of the successful children’s book trilogy “Merlins Crystal” to be hounded off the site by foul mouthed forum bullies. An author, I may add, who edited site users work for free. Scribophile does not value serious writers, it values forum junkies.

    The Emperor of Scribophile has no clothes.

    • Brian Lewis says:

      This review was written many months before I was invited to be a site moderator. And, as a moderator, I try to enforce the rules of the forums—which are not my own.

      Today, I spend a lot of time behind the scenes trying to get people to be nice to each other on Scribophile. In my current volunteer moderator duties, according to the instructions of the site owner, I limit intervention and censorship, because part of valuing and respecting serious writers is allowing them to say things I disagree with.

      What may not be obvious is that the most egregious violations in the forums, the worst personal attacks and off-topic thread-derailing comments, are purged in a way that little or no evidence remains to indicate such things were ever posted.

      It’s a difficult balancing act. There are definitely strong personalities with whom I disagree, and excellent or experienced writers whose contributions add incredible value to the site—it would be nice to find a way to ensure that the former never drive away the latter. However, since that relies on an extremely subjective and personal approach, there’s no way to implement that kind of control and still claim that members are valued.

      On the other hand: it is very worth pointing out that some of the most valuable, highest-contributing members of Scribophile spend very little time in the forums at all. The core of the community, the very reason it exists, is the writing and critiquing process. Where the forums are occasionally a free-for-all group discussion, including an entire range of interactions for jovial to disrespectful, the workshop-like environment around the posted writing is consistently somber, respectful, and—above all—serious.

      Scribophile has helped hundreds of writers—including me—improve their craft, and even with the sometimes-rowdy tone of the public forums, it remains one of the best writing workshop sites online.

      I am sorry your experience has not been the same.

  4. Yes, I found abuse from morons there, so I left them to swim in their own slush.

  5. Andrew Lang says:

    I am currently researching Scribophile’s services, and I came upon your review of the site. Seeing from the comments that you’re a moderator, perhaps you will know. Out of curiosity, what keeps members of Scribophile from plagiarizing the unpublished works of others? Have you found this to be a problem in your experience? Copy and paste is rampant on the internet, so what keeps people from doing this here? Any insights you might provide on this inquiry will be helpful in making my decision to join such a service. Thanks!

    • Andrew, this is a common question, and the reality is that most writers on a workshop site are working harder on their own writing than on stealing others’ words. Plus, remember that you can’t copyright story ideas, only actually-written stories—and every writer is going to execute the story idea differently.

      For a more advanced response to your question, see the Scribophile Academy article “Copyright And The Independent Writer.” This addresses the concerns about plagiarism, how you can protect yourself, how you can’t protect yourself, and what things are actually worth worrying about.

      • Andrew Lang says:

        Thanks for responding to my message. I’ll be sure to check out the Academy article you referenced. I see the point you make about every idea being executed differently. I guess I’m just a little hesitant to share what I’ve invested myself into. All in all, well noted and worth looking at, all the same.

  6. Terry says:

    Hey there,

    I checked out scribo for a while but didn’t find the feedback professional enough. I finally settled on Critique Circle which is amongst the oldest and most reputable writing communities out there (I think Scribo is even largely modeled after CC) and so far I am very impressed.

    Boris, check it out: http://www.critiquecircle.com It would be nice to see a review and a comparison?

    • Brian Lewis says:

      I do have an account there, but haven’t used the site extensively. I’ll have to revisit it at some point.

    • McLaughlin says:

      Two problems:
      1. Since Brian is now a mod on Scribophile, don’t you think his review for other sites might be subjective and slanted towards the one he already fell in love with? (Nothing personal, Brian. It’s human nature, even when we try to be unbiased.)
      2. The problems with CC tend to be hidden for a while before surfacing. Much of it sounds like great advice, until you read something from the people giving the advice. Many are simply ignored, rather then told the problem (and told nicely.) Add to that, the resolve of the owner is to ignore problems until they go away, unless anyone complains, and then that person is the enemy.

      I tend to see people agreeing with site reviews only when they’ve been there for one or two months.

      • Brian Lewis says:

        No personal offense taken. The reality is that even if I weren’t currently acting as moderator, any subsequent review is unavoidably influenced by the fact that I’ve now spent so much time as a Scribophile member.

        Most likely the thing that will happen is that I’ll wait until I start writing again (and stop moderating) so I can compare multiple sites using the same work.

        Even then, while the review above is valid because it was unbiased when it was written, I think we’re long past the point where any new review I write can be taken without several grains of salt and disclosures. The best anyone could hope for is to look at my future comments as “influenced by experience” as opposed to “verifiably neutral.”

  7. I’m not a moderator on the site, so:

    It’s hands-down the best online English writers group. I bounced between writers groups beginning in 2004, but only found sycophants allergic to constructive criticism only looking to be called geniuses. My search for a solid writers’ group ended in 2009 with Scrib, and though I don’t post as much as I used to, I still frequent the site.

    Scribophile users are overall genuinely helpful and polite. I had a small group of very new writers I was teaching, and we created our own group on Scrib. Despite being brand new, these writers were all treated with courtesy and helpful words by the wider Scrib community on their work. As a longtime user of the site, I felt vindicated by the community with how my students were treated.

    The Karma system essentially weeds out anyone who is just looking for a pat on the head. You have to work and show initiative before you can began receiving (limited!) reading of your work. Scrib is not an archive in which to dump all your old poetry and purple prose, its a living organism of works-in-progress.

    I’m sure some people have had problems on the forums or have felt some critiques were unhelpful or unfair. I personally have never been involved with a squabble on Scrib and have found everyone to be polite and helpful – this is after 5.5 years on the site, mind you. Whenever you deal with people, you are going to run into a few bad eggs. These folks tend to be reprimanded by the site moderators quite quickly. While the community is a driving force of the site, the owner knows its his baby and takes good care of it.

    I’d recommend anyone to try this site for one month.

    Daniel Rodrigues-Martin

  8. Harold McBroom says:

    I joined Scribophile a week ago, and my first concerns were, will I have the writing environment that I’ve been searching for, with the tools needed to accomplish the job; I signed up, and discovered that I could only post 2 works at one time, unless I purchase the month to month plan which is $9, or the yearly plan which is $65 up front. So I purchased the $9 plan so that I could post unlimited works “at once”.

    The “at once” phrase means, you can consecutively post your written works all at once, but what they don’t tell you when signing up, is that it requires “karma” points. 5 karma points to write and release your work, so the “at once” terminology they use, becomes obsolete, because you can not post your unlimited works at one time, because you will constantly have to read and “critique” the works of others, to gain these karma points.

    I don’t mind reading the works of others, I rather enjoy it, but I have a problem with “critiquing” their works, because I’m not a professional writer, so how can I tell them what’s wrong with their writings, when the same problems probably exist within my own works, and you do not get karma points for submitting a “comment”. After reading someone else’s story you have the option to “comment”, or “Critique”; So no karma points issued for comments.

    Not only did I sign up for premium service yesterday, at $9 a month, but I woke up the very next day, that day, being today, to find that I have been banned, my account terminated, my works deleted, because the critique I offered was in fact critiquing the system that forced me to critique the works of others. Here’s an example of my critique:

    Critique

    “Dear John Doe, first off let me get the critique out of the way,
    Critique!
    …Now that we have the critique out of the way, I would like to say that I enjoyed your story, and here’s why…blah blah blah…

    I can’t critique your work, John, because I’m not a professional writer, so please accept this critique as a critique of the system that forces me to critique your work, when I find nothing wrong with it! Keep up the good work, and I look forward to reading more of your stories!”

    Writing is not about critiquing, it’s about being creative, and spontaneous in your thoughts, and the ability to transfer these thoughts into readable form that can be enjoyed by others!

    Why should I pay Scribophile, $9 a month to be forced read and critique the works of others? Another issue is I came across a pedophile , who wrote a story in which he played the role of a child in a location serving alcohol, where Disney characters where, and the bartender was using his sexual organ to stir his mothers drink…

    THIS is the type of behavior that is allowed, while I get banned, my account deleted for criticizing Scribophile’s critique system.

    • Brian Lewis says:

      Sorry you had a bad experience, Harold! Since I have no control over or responsibility for handling “bad critique” reports or banning members, I may be in a position to respond to some of your concerns.

      First, there’s a wealth of public information for writers available at scribophile.com that does not require sign-up. Since you are presented with the Getting Started process as part of signing up, I’m not sure it’s valid to say they “don’t tell you” about the Karma requirement. In fact, the workflow is very blatant in the links across the top of that Getting Started Guide: they tell you about Karma first, then how to read others’ work, then how to do a critique, and only then, after you’ve gained all that experience, do they talk about posting your own writing.

      Many great writers would disagree with you about the role reading/critiquing plays in becoming a great writer, but even if you’re right that writing isn’t about critiquing, swapping critiques definitely is an integral part of making Scribophile an effective community. I can definitely see how your perspective on critiques makes Scribophile a poor fit for your needs.

      Also, while I do understand your complaint about the semantics of the word “critique” and your feeling that it carries with it a requirement of professional experience, Scribophile makes it easy to see the distinction between a “critique” and a “comment” before you write a single word in response to someone else’s posted writing:

      Comment vs. Critique

      There are also a ton of great resources for getting started writing critiques of others’ work even if you’ve never written a single critique in your life. These resources are public—no Scribophile membership required—and so they’re valuable whether you belong to the Scribophile community or not!

      Scrbophile FAQ: I’ve never written a critique before. Help!

      Finally, because Scribophile is all about improving our collective skills as writers, the site does provide a “report” feature for works and critiques. Here’s what someone would see if they clicked the report button on the critique you described above:

      Report a Critique

      Simply reporting a critique for being a comment about the site’s functionality (combined with some praise of the work) isn’t vindictive; it’s a means for ensuring that critiques are held to a high standard of constructive feedback. Having a critique reported isn’t grounds for “banning” in and of itself. However, if a new member’s behavior (in critiques, forums, and private messages) made it clear not only that they did not understand or approve of the community’s methodology but had every intention of being disruptive to the community instead of participating in it, I can imagine that they’d find themselves evicted. Again, it’s not my purview, so I don’t control it, but I can imagine that’s what would lead to a “banning.”

      Best wishes with your continued writing endeavors!

      — Brian Lewis

      P.S. I don’t really have a response to the very unique story you mentioned. On the one hand, disturbing stuff like that is certainly not the norm; on the other hand, Scribophile doesn’t practice “censorship” (in finger-quotes) and instead relies on authors to flag their own work that contains adult or offensive content. This enables members to decide what they will or will not read and critique—it’s all about empowering the individuals to be in control of their own experience!

  9. Lou says:

    My experience with the site is as a new member. I took a few hours of my time to read through a couple of pieces and comment on them. It was real work. I went to the forums and added threads to get some life back into some of them (no postings for 3 months).

    It seemed like it might be a worthwhile community… until I wanted to up my own post and also enter it into a “free” contest. Ahh, another frickin’ karma point! The only way I could get into the “free” contest is to pony up to premium. Let me see–I do all the damn work, add content, write my story, and then I have to pay for fake karma. Harsh. So, I wrote a note to the guy running the show, Alex. No slack from him.

    I know. The rules are the rules. I wish someone would have pointed out that a two page critique would only give you just over 1 karma point and (you do get 2 pts for being new) that typically means 4-5 critiques for each 1 submission you want to make. So, if you get off at critiquing other people’s work, Nirvana. If not, it’s a long and hard road for posting that might take you a couple of lives.

    So, I’ll check out the submissions every once in awhile to practice my editing skills. I’ll comment on a forum thread if it interests me, and I may someday even post something for fun. But to take it seriously or upgrade to premium? Nope, too much bad karma.

    Lou

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